The Poetry Editor and Poetry: The Yearning Life: Poems

This lovely book by Regina Walton, which Paraclete Press kindly sent me to review, won the first Phyllis Tickle Prize in Poetry and no wonder!

Source: The Poetry Editor and Poetry: The Yearning Life: Poems


You, me, and Wallace Stevens

This week before Christmas, I received a surprise gift from poet-peer Glynn Young, author of the book Poetry at Work, which we’ve previously discussed and which I wish I’d remembered sooner to suggest as a great Christmas gift for everyone in the office.

In my Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook, Glynn had posted a hotlink to his blog post on Wallace Stevens, another poet whose work I admire. Naturally, I clicked the link and surprise! It took me a moment to realize that the article begins with my poem, “Landscape Loved by Wallace Stevens.”

Glynn acknowledged me as author, of course, and also my poetry book, Living in the Nature Poem, which includes that poem, but then he went beyond that. He provided a hotlink to the book on Amazon and another to my website. Nice!

Oh, if we would all be so nice to one another, think of the interest we might generate in poetry!

Think of the poets we would encourage.

Think of the poetry network we could build with poems we like and poetry books we recommend if we simply let others know we recommend them.

Think of the publishers who might retweet our tweets about our poetry book reviews.

Think of the way poetry can counteract the terrorism of hurtful words.

Think of the joy we can bring to one another as Glynn did me.

May your Christmas be blessed and your New Year a blessing to your readers, poetry editors, and other poets too.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler has placed hundreds of poems and 27 traditionally published books in all genres. Her e-book, the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry, is a revision of the poetry home study course she wrote and used for years with other poets and poetry students, and she continues to offer one-on-one feedback for a minimal fee through her website.

Micropoetry and more

Despite the above title, the only real “rule” for micropoetry is less, not more. In versions made popular on Twitter, a micro poem, Tweetku, or Twaiku has 140 characters or less as found by using a hashtag with those words or by typing #micropoetry.

In general, a micro poem might have ten words or less or, more likely, one to six lines.

Some writers of these mini poems prefer the structured form of haiku in its traditional form of the English equivalent of 5/ 7/ 5 syllables respectively on three lines, but contemporary versions of haiku often break with that tradition anyway, giving rise to new mini-forms. Unlike most haiku, though, a micro poem might include rhymes with no reference to nature or any particular season of the year.

A pioneer of micropoetic adventures is Editor-Publisher-Poet Frank Watson, who kindly accepted a couple of my poems last year for his first issue of Poetry Nook. Since he liked my poetry, I suspected I would enjoy his work, too, and so I welcomed the review copies he sent me of his books Seas to Mulberries and The Dollhouse Mirror, published by Plum White Press.

In both books, the poet presents tiny cameos, super-short stories, petite prose poems, or fleeting scenes in miniature. Since I’ve run out of adjectives to tell you about them, let’s look at some micro poems in the first book, Seas to Mulberries.

In a footnote to the poet’s translation of a poem by Li Yi (746-829), we learn that the title phrase “is an idiom reflecting how greatly things can change over time.” Interestingly, that translation from Chinese into four quatrains of English gives us one of the longest poems in the book with examples of change paradoxically showing their timelessness. For instance:

Inquiring on our family names,
Surprised, we begin to see;
We state our names
And reflect upon our changed appearances.

Coming and going, forever changing:
Seas to mulberries, mulberries to seas.
Our words cease
By the evening bell.

More typical, perhaps, is the use of brevity in poetic statements such as:

to feel vs. to know

does it matter
to the soul?


you sing
a discordant song
while I play along

Sound echoes of assonance and light rhyme appear in the following poem, too, which also gives us an example of a quickly sketched scene.

desert woman
of the sand

your shadow
an outstretched hand

With few lines to guide our reading of micropoetry, the more we look, the more and more we see story potential:

in history
there is little
but ruined towns

and clouds
that tell a story.

Ironically, perhaps, the first collection of mini-poems by Frank Watson takes up almost 280 pages, whereas the second book, The Dollhouse Mirror, is a slender volume of 58 pages, which I liked as its very slimness contributes to an appropriately slower pace in reading. I also connected more with the immense universality of his micro poems in such lines as these:

to the poet
there is a love of beauty
in all its
terrifying forms


the forest
curled up
into a story
of stranded souls
away from city lights

As you can see, micro poems may or may not contain punctuation, capitalization, and other markers of English, set often in incomplete sentences as in these lines:

seed planted
on the grave
of yesterday’s tears

But then, you might also find a micro poem completed in one small sentence that memorializes a humorous moment:

a doll stares out
the store window
at the little girl
of her dreams

Using this “form” without a form, a poet can dream or drop in almost anything – past memorabilia, present tensions, and future hopes – with philosophical whispers that linger in our thoughts and in this closing poem:

there is time
enough for weeping
as the dust settles
and all the books
remain closed

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and poetry editor, invites you to Search this blog for previously discussed poetic forms, terminology, or techniques that interest you, then suggest poetry-related topics you would like to see addressed in future posts. Follow the blog, and you won’t miss a thing!

Seas to Mulberries, paperback


The Dollhouse Mirror, paperback


Opening King David: Poems in Conversation with the Psalms

As Brad Davis tells us in his preface to Opening King David: Poems in Conversation with the Psalms, “The intention was not to create a new translation/ adaptation of the Psalms, engage in midrash, or even generate ‘religious’ verse, but to make poems in a conversational idiom that bear witness to an attention to three horizons: the text, my surroundings (natural, cultural, relational, situational), and whatever may have been happening inside my skin at the time of composition.” Most likely, something similar happened to King David, Asaph, and other psalmists whose words were preserved in the Bible rather than an Emerald City book published by Wipf and Stock.

Written over centuries, biblical Psalms express praise, thanksgiving, laments, pleas, and petitions with no thought of book length or the divisions later devised to reflect the five books of Torah. Poet Brad Davis followed that editorial precedent in dividing his 150 poems into five parts or “books” with each poem responding to a verse chosen sequentially from Psalm 1 to 150.

For example, the first poem “Ashre” considers Psalm 1:1-2, “Blessed is he who meditates day and night,” then begins by telling about a collision with a deer whose “giant black eyes blinked slowly, confused,” perhaps describing the dilemma of the poet, who finds it “Difficult this morning to concentrate/ on the psalmic text – Happy is the man” when admittedly feeling “like chaff that the wind blows away.”

In the poem “She Said,” the reference to the “deeds of man” in Psalm 17:4 considers how “the Spirit I know works in us as we/ work on things like love – putting out the trash without having to be reminded – which / I am very far from getting right.” And, in the “Neighbor as Theologian” the poet responds to Psalm 29:3, “The God of glory thunders,” which his neighbor seems to hear with clarity, causing the poet to wonder why “would I begrudge her/ an assurance of contact? More likely,/ I long for what she has, embarrassed, pained/ by my lack of openness to mystery – / which, she has told me, is wholly present/ in, with, and under the hedge between us.”

Generally written in free verse or ten-syllable lines with occasional use of internal rhymes, the poems present an acrostic response to Psalm 34 since its referent was also written in lines that began with each letter of the alphabet. As the poet proceeds in “Reading the Psalter,” Psalm 54 considers how “Vengeance is mine,/ says the Lord….” which ends with the conclusion that “We must – I must do my own dirty work/ or forever hold my difficult peace.”

With laments, praise, cries, insight, a rare use of crudity, and occasional humor, one poem sends a critique in “E-Mails to Asaph,” admitting “If your God’s good with mixed metaphors,/ who am I to argue.” When the poet seeks to escape in “The Good Life,” the realization comes that “The same/ irreverence travels with me, clings to my every/ move like Spanish moss in the live oaks….” Nevertheless, the poem “Pentecost” reveals that “more than tongues/ or hummingbirds or art, we await,/ beyond wasp and swift or even want,/ a word to set ablaze the air, ignite our hearts.”

Continuing to seek “Words That Matter,” the poet sings “an infinite Word who calls forth// in our souls an infinite longing./ Though death may require a dislocation// of the self from all that is not the self,/ this is the Word that will return us to// our right minds, a right regard for all things./ This is the Word that will wake us from death.”

Before that waking though, “A New Song” brings the realization, “For now, I am thankful for how all things// seem to resolve into song – and the high call/ to bend our wills to set a wronged world right.” But how? How does the poet do that? How do we?

Quoting Psalm 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” the last line of the last poem ends this read-it-again collection with the challenge: “Do you breathe? Praise God” – an everlastingly good idea.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler — poetry book reviewer and poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem published by Hiraeth Press, the book of Bible-based poems Outside Eden published by Kelsay Books, and the e-book, Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry

Opening King David: Poems in Conversation with the Psalms, paperback



Searching for What is Not There

When I interviewed Martin Willitts Jr. a few years ago, we discussed how poetry editors are people too. Now, reading the review copy of his poetry book, Searching for What is Not There published by Hiraeth Press, I realized what an accomplished poet he is, and how I’m already looking forward to re-reading this slender volume of verse.

Addressing universal themes of life, death, love, and loss, the book opens with the title poem, which gives us entry into exquisite poetry that often uses nature as a metaphor or means of explaining what cannot be explained: “Looking into a lake, things are elsewhere, off/ center as love when it first enters and leaves.”

In “How I Know Things Are Coming Back,” we get a glimpse of lupines, peonies, columbines, and the bloom of humor as the poet admits: “My garden is too small for my ambitions./ I have to work tight, constricted,/ composing haiku of underlying colors.” And in “The Cricket,” that tiny critter “preaches in song” as the poet sings, too, “under an open window of moonlight” where “The night hears me./ It knows my bamboo-flute heart. It knows/ the shortening seasons.”

As each of us approaches our own succession of losses, we also reach our moments of “Letting Go” where the poem by that name reminds us: “The wildness is everywhere – old branches/ break off in soft winds like loose teeth;/ rocks break free of the ground where they have been/ longer than memory; rivers are changing the ground around them.” Inviting us into this communal experience, the poet asks: “How can this continue, you may wonder./ Put the oars into your boat and see where you go.”

Yet another inviting poem asks by way of title, “What Will Happen If We Pull Down the Empty Sky,” then winsomely warns: “Dreams would crash on our heads,/ all those prayers we felt went nowhere/ would fall on us as meteorites.”

Even in the seriousness of loss, levity lifts and coaxes us, too, to begin “Singing in the Apron of Stars.” Having gone before us, the poet says, “I was liberated, for even a moment,/ to do what my heart knew instinctually right,/ and I was doing what I should be doing./ I was clipping the hedges with hymns.”

Nevertheless, euphoria and certainty do not last, and occasionally we might find ourselves, as the poet did, “Three Hours Before New Years and Counting” – even though “I knew that New Years Day was off to a bad start/ when snow began to fall inside of my closet, geese flew from the coat hangers,/ and someone tobogganed out of the shoe boxes.”

Real or imagined, such unexpected moments lead us lightly toward the closing poem commemorating “Things We Find Instead of Other Things.” But then, “That is the problem with seeking./ Sometimes, we do not find what we want to find,/ and we find other things instead.” Even so, “There is always something in the nothingness./ Wild winds thin out into smells from apple blossoms,” where, like the poet, “I am always wondering/ what is just beyond.”

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer and poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem, also published by Hiraeth Press

Searching for What is Not There, paperback


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